“I grew up in a remote, mountainous city in Southwest China with my parents and grandparents,” Sharon Chan, founder of Sourceful tells me. The high-achieving entrepreneur had her head in the books most of her life. Her thirst for academics led her to travel across the globe to the UK to study for a master’s at the London School of Economics. Fresh after graduation, Sharon dove into the world of e-commerce. During her time in the industry, Sharon realised there was an issue within supply chains in organisations. Despite there being advancements in marketing, Sharon found that businesses failed to upgrade when it came to sourcing packaging materials for their products. She also discovered the outsourcing process was painstakingly slow, long and filled with roadblocks.
“When I was working in e-commerce it was so obvious to me that whilst marketing and trading were becoming rapidly digitised, the sourcing and supply-chain side remained so old-fashioned,” Sharon explained. “The process was agonizingly slow, fraught with risk and friction. I was sure there was a smarter way for business to source manufactured goods and that set us on the path to founding Sourceful.” And that was when her idea for Sourceful was born. Sourceful is a tech packaging solutions company that focuses on eliminating the middleman when it comes to brand packaging. With sustainability at the core of their business, Sourceful helps brands create and source packaging faster and with less hassle, using their in-house AI and data-powered platform.
According to Sourceful’s ‘Solving the Packaging Puzzle’ study, British e-commerce firms lose around £150,000 per year through late shipments, damaged goods and poor-quality products. Sourceful’s real-time platform allows businesses to have added transparency in their packaging supply chain from source to end of life, preventing wastage and leaving less of a carbon footprint. “Packaging is old-fashioned and desperately inefficient,” Sharon added. “The box has always been the last thing that brands want to think about, but it is the first thing the consumer sees. We realised there was an opportunity to help businesses create beautiful packaging that tells their story and represents their values, but by doing it in a smart, efficient and sustainable way. We want to digitize the packaging supply chain process and make ordering packaging as easy as ordering an Uber.”
Sharon and her co-founder, Wing, who is also her husband, launched their business together during Covid-19, which was an incredibly challenging time for businesses. Sharon was stuck in China on lockdown for nine weeks while setting up her business and had to work remotely while her team were scattered across the UK. With sheer will and determination, Sharon managed to lead her team and scale up her business remotely. “It was tough and it was lonely, but at the same time it enabled me to focus and to work,” Sharon told me. “I kept a really strict routine and made time to exercise and to relax, as well as working. I kept in contact with my team via video calls and in many ways it was an incredibly productive time. That said, I definitely wouldn’t want to do it again!”
Launching a business is no easy feat. Sharon and Wing bootstrapped and used their own finances to start the company. They then underwent the tedious process of vetting manufacturers, visiting hundreds of factories across China making sure they picked professional and reliable ones to work with. This process took them several months, but the pair managed to set up long-standing relationships with several manufacturers who shared their vision and aligned with their company mission. “The most time-consuming aspect has been comprehensively vetting manufacturers,” Sharon said. “We are rigorous with our onboarding process and assess each factory site individually. This takes time, and effort and involves a lot of travel – hence my multiple trips to China during the pandemic. The other challenge has been getting an industry which has been doing things in a certain way for decades, to embrace new technology and new ways of doing things.” She added: “There’s no shortcut when it comes to vetting our suppliers. We visit each one, explain the vision and if our values align, we partner with them. We now have a team in China doing the work which reduces the amount of time I have to spend out there.”
Sourceful has since boomed in the world of e-commerce. They now partner with big brands like Zoe, Day, Trip and Hylo, who use Sourceful’s platform to purchase immaculate and sustainable packaging in a seamless and hassle-free process. “We’ve built up a very strong business very quickly,” Sharon said. “Our revenues are significant and much of this is recurring revenue which is obviously vital for building a strong business. We’re going to keep growing and adding new tools and technology to make sourcing packaging easier for our clients.”
Sharon is not only a business founder, but she is also a mother. Sharon spoke to me about motherhood while running a business, and how it is important to learn how to take some time out for yourself when you need it most, and to delegate tasks if you need a hand. “Juggling motherhood and growing a business certainly has its challenges and the reality is that no one can do it all,” Sharon told me. “There have been many times where I’ve needed to spend an hour catching up on work whilst the baby takes a nap and I’m extremely fortunate to have Wing to help out on both the childcare and the business side of things, we’re able to switch between roles seamlessly. The main thing for me was accepting that delegation is ok, and necessary sometimes. If you’re tired out and not able to function at your best, your business won’t be at its best either.”
In a few words of advice to other female entrepreneurs, Sharon said: “I’m still learning every day and the role changes as the business grows too. My advice would be to cultivate a support system around you that understands the choices you’ve decided to make. It’s great that it’s becoming more common to see female leaders and founders, but it still is quite uncommon, and having people in your community that understand you and support you is a massive help.”